Off Beat: Habitat work reveals full range of living arrangements

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Josh Townsley's job includes a lot of happy homecomings.

The Habitat for Humanity official also sees houses that aren't exactly what you'd call, well, habitable.

The happy part included watching a new home settle onto its foundation a week ago. The halves of the modular home were built at Evergreen and Mountain View high schools.

It's a partnership between the nonprofit agency and Evergreen Public Schools. As executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, Townsley had a chance to introduce himself and his organization to the Evergreen school board. He explained the Habitat approach and described the need he sees.

Like 19 people living in a two-bedroom apartment.

"A family of five had to leave their apartment because of safety reasons," which, he explained, was a shooting next to the family's apartment.

While their application was working its way through the process, "they moved in with two other families that were sharing a small two-bedroom apartment," Townsley said.

And here's the kicker: Townsley has seen worse.

"We see all sorts of different substandard housing. While this was a lot of people in a small space, it was one of the nicer apartments," he said.

The three families were well-organized.

"They talked us through it. They had mattresses and sleeping bags stacked up in the living room. Most of the kids sleep in the living room. Four adults share a bedroom. Some smaller kids and their parents sleep in the other bedroom. The place was very clean."

That family found a place to live while waiting in the Habitat queue, so the crowding issue was solved. But crowding is just one problem Habitat sees.

"We also see unhealthy and unsafe," Townsley said. "We see people in garages or in basements with safety issues because there are no exits or windows."

See a video here.


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.